Half-Timbering, Homosexuality and Whingeing

Ian Sansom

  • England, England by Julian Barnes
    Cape, 272 pp, £15.99, September 1998, ISBN 0 224 05275 6

The title of this novel is a contraction (of the famous phrase from W.E. Henley’s ‘Pro Rege Nostro’, ‘What have I done for you,/England, my England’). The dust-jacket design is a steal (‘after the Our Counties Jig-Saw Puzzle, Tower Press’). The blurb is a cliché (‘As every schoolboy knows ...’: Macaulay out of Auden). The central plot device is borrowed (from Clough Williams-Ellis’s terrible vision in On Trust for the Nation). The central character is a composite caricature (part Robert Maxwell, part Mohamed al-Fayed). The story is as old as the hills (love, betrayal, the search for happiness). The plot structure is both obvious and predictable (a three-parter, with the requisite climaxes and crises), the themes comforting and familiar (the meaning of memory, of nationhood and selfhood), the idiom entirely typical and self-regarding. England, England, in other words, is a book which not only poses questions about integrity and authenticity, but is itself something of a poser.

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